By editorial board • 

Marginalizing the opposition also marginalizes Democracy

It was the best of sessions; it was the worst of sessions.

It was the best in the view of Democratic Party partisans and the public employee unions that bankrolled them to 60 percent supermajorities in November. Unchecked by meaningful opposition, they rode roughshod over the objections from January to June.

The party’s environmental forces suffered a searing setback when cap and trade, the centerpiece of their legislative agenda, fell short in the session’s dying days. However, they were rewarded with lesser spoils, including new restrictions on oil transport and diesel emissions 

Ironically, the unraveling of cap and trade is actually attributable to the closeted opposition of three Democrats, not the dramatic walkout by 11 Republicans. The votes just weren’t there in the Senate, despite its 18-12 Democratic slant.

On the other side of the aisle, the business community emerged bruised and battered. As a result, it’s facing more of the two elements it most dislikes in life — regulation and taxation. It can take consolation only in the cap and trade collapse, which may amount to a fleeting reprieve if Gov. Kate Brown resorts to executive action, as threatened.

Marginalized by the Legislature’s Democratic leadership, Republicans staged a pair of walkouts, one aimed at a new business tax designed to funnel $2 billion a biennium into public school coffers, the other at a cap and trade bill they felt would strangle resource industries and raise fuel prices without delivering anything tangible.

But the general public actually suffered most at the hands of the Democratic juggernaut, because legislators didn’t just refuse to listen to the GOP and allied forces, they refused to listed to anyone. 

Allowing affected parties and interested citizens a say is designed to identify weaknesses, head off unintended results and build a broader buy-in. A hallmark of democracy, it has served us well throughout history.

But it appeared this year that the dominant party had already worked out the details in closed-door sessions with lobby allies, to the point it was unwilling to address concerns or forge compromises. When it secured the votes, which it generally did, it was relentless in sweeping aside all objections.

Often, public hearings were reduced to little more that a procedural box that had to be checked. Buoyed by their big majorities, legislative leaders didn’t think they needed to listen to anyone outside the echo chamber of their own inner circle.

In the short run, that’s a strategy for flawed legislation and increased resort to the blunt sword of the initiative process. In the long run, it’s a recipe for erosion of political support, trust in government and faith in the process.

Residents of the sagebrush counties to the east and timber counties to the south have traditionally felt most aggrieved, and nothing served to change that this session. They suffered even at the hands of Republicans, who seemed more intent scoring points on vaccines and gun rights than helping rural constituents protect vital resource industry jobs.

We wouldn’t have minded seeing this session capped and traded.


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